Waking up refreshed, well rested and ready to take on the day truly is one of life’s simple pleasures. But, while sweet dreams and great night’s sleep come easily for some of us, many people experience the occasional bout of insomnia or restlessness.
Aside from healthy lifestyle practices like getting daily doses of sunshine and exercise, there are few habits you can work into your evenings to support your body’s natural rhythms and promote better sleep. Here are seven things you can do tonight for sweeter dreams.
1. Switch to decaf.
Most people know that caffeine perks you up, but what isn’t common knowledge is just how long the effects of a coffee buzz can hang around. Caffeine usually remains in people’s systems from three to five hours, and possibly even up to 14 hours.
If you drink your coffee and sleep like a log, no worries. However, if you have trouble settling down at reasonable time, examine your diet. Caffeine comes from coffee, tea, soda and some supplements as well. You may find better sleep by cutting caffeine out, or at least restricting it to the morning. There are many sippable replacements out there, from decaf coffee and herbal teas and tisanes, to fruit-sweetened mineral water and warmed milk with honey.
2. Enjoy your nightcap around dinnertime.
Several studies identify potential health benefits of red wine and some spirits, but the truth is that alcohol isn’t so great for slumber. This can seem counterintuitive, since alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant like caffeine.
And sure, it can help you relax and induce drowsiness. However, if you consume it close to bedtime, research suggests that it impairs your body’s ability to achieve deep sleep, which is important for cell repair, brain function and more.
If you like to kick back with the occasional vino or cocktail, it’s best to practice last call a few hours before bedtime so your body has time to metabolize the alcohol.
3. Take up a meditation practice.
Adopting the habit of meditation can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, and may even have an effect on pain. Recent research also found mindfulness meditation practice effective for improving sleep in older adults with insomnia.
Guided meditations designed to encourage relaxation abound online, which can be helpful for beginners. Many communities have meditation courses offered by certified instructors that can guide you through the basics, often offered via universities and health facilities.
4. Indulge in a warm bath.
There’s something about soaking in a warm bath tub that brings about a sense of calmness and serenity. Beyond releasing stress and tension, the changes in body temperature can also promote better sleep.
A hot bath raises your core body temperature slightly, which then gradually drops to normal after you get out of the tub. Your body temperature also naturally drops as you prepare to sleep, which is thought to play a role in drowsiness. It’s best to take your bath about one to two hours before you sleep, so as to coincide with your body’s natural rhythms.
5. Declutter and wash sheets often.
A cluttered bedroom is usually not a relaxing one. Make your space sleep friendly by minimizing unnecessary “stuff” and organizing what is visible. Closed hampers, storage baskets and bins, and nightstands with drawers can make it easy to do a quick pick up in the evening before bed.
Healthy bedding is also important. Sheet washing habits can vary quite a bit from person to person, but a weekly wash is a good rule of thumb. Otherwise, you’re inviting allergens, sweat, shed skin cells, oils and lots of other stuff to share your night.
6. Set screens to dim.
One modern evening habit receiving quite a bit of attention lately is our use of televisions, computers and other electronics. Research suggests that screens delay melatonin production and keep us up later due to their blue light spectra.
If you use a laptop or computer in the evening, consider an application like f.lux, which dims the screen’s light and blue tones to minimize effects. On your television, switch over to the dimmer or energy-saving setting at night if it’s an option. It’s also best to turn TVs off before bedtime, though most sleep hygiene experts suggest banishing TV from the bedroom altogether.
7. Check in small electronic devices.
Just like TVs and computers, our smartphones and tablets also emit that sleep-stealing blue light. Many of us habitually check email, social media, news and other things on our phones quite often, and notifications buzzing all night can disturb you or your partner. You may even find yourself sleep texting! Handheld electronic devices may have an even stronger impact on sleep, especially for kids.
Rather than keeping a brightly lit distraction device inches from your face in bed, consider establishing a check-in-slash-charging station in the hall or living room where everyone can dock their phones and tablets before turning in. If you need something to get sleepy, try a paper book, audio book, or a sound machine.
What habits do you notice affecting your sleep for better or worse, or what practices have you adopted for healthier rest? Share in the comments!